Adventures in Tuition

In 1987, University of Illinois freshman Mike Hayes wrote to Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene with a modest proposal: that each of Greene’s readers contribute a penny to finance his education.

“Just one penny,” he told Greene. “A penny doesn’t mean anything to anyone. If everyone who is reading your column looks around the room right now, there will be a penny under the couch cushion, or on the corner of the desk, or on the floor. That’s all I’m asking. A penny from each of your readers.”

Greene published the appeal in 200 newspapers via his syndicated column — and Hayes received 77,000 letters and enough pennies to break his bank’s coin-counting machine three times. He easily reached his goal of $28,000, enough for four years of tuition, room and board, and books.

He graduated with a degree in food science. Asked why the scheme worked, he said, “I didn’t ask for a lot of money. I just asked for money from a lot of people.”

Enjoy Your Flight

Items prohibited from carry-on baggage by the Transportation Security Administration, as of June 2010:

  • Meat cleavers
  • Spear guns
  • Sabers
  • Hatchets
  • Cattle prods
  • Swords
  • Brass knuckles
  • Nunchakus
  • Throwing stars
  • Blasting caps
  • Dynamite
  • Hand grenades

And “snow globes … even with documentation.”

Noble Wisdom

Maxims of Rochefoucauld:

  • “Few men are able to know all the ill they do.”
  • “We are never made so ridiculous by the qualities we have, as by those we affect to have.”
  • “In every profession, every individual affects to appear what he would willingly be esteemed; so that we may say, the world is composed of nothing but appearances.”
  • “We like better to see those on whom we confer benefits, than those from whom we receive them.”
  • “Everybody takes pleasure in returning small obligations; many go so far as to acknowledge moderate ones; but there is hardly any one who does not repay great obligations with ingratitude.”
  • “In misfortunes we often mistake dejection for constancy; we bear them without daring to look on them, as cowards suffer themselves to be killed without resistance.”
  • “None but the contemptible are apprehensive of contempt.”
  • “We want strength to act up to our reason.”
  • “We easily forget crimes that are known only to ourselves.”
  • “It is as easy to deceive ourselves without our perceiving it, as it is difficult to deceive others without their perceiving it.”
  • “We are sometimes less unhappy in being deceived than in being undeceived by those we love.”

And “Those who apply themselves too much to little things commonly become incapable of great ones.”

Meek Chic

Why is modesty a virtue? Classically, to be virtuous is to be wise, thoughtful, and prudent. But modesty seems to depend on ignorance.

Julia Driver writes, “For a person to be modest, she must be ignorant with regard to her self-worth. She must think herself less deserving, or less worthy, than she actually is. … Since modesty is generally considered to be a virtue, it would seem that this virtue rests upon an epistemic defect.”

As Sherlock Holmes says, “To underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”

A New Deal

Playing cards were used as currency in early Canada. In 1685 the intendant of the French garrison in Quebec found that he had no money to pay his troops, “and not knowing to what saint to make my vows, the idea occurred to me of putting in circulation notes made of cards, each cut into four pieces; and I have issued an ordinance commanding the inhabitants to receive them in payment.”

This worked surprisingly well, so when funds ran short the following year they tried it again. The system continued intermittently for 70 years, collapsing finally only with the chaos of the Seven Years’ War.

“A Courtly Spaniard”

While the Duke de Villa Medina was at the English court, he was present, and took part at a tournament given by Elizabeth, where his gallantry and manly beauty made him the observed of all observers. At the close of the sports, as the duke came near to the queen, she said to him, pleasantly, that she would like to know who was the chosen mistress of so gallant a knight; whereupon he shook his head and would not further answer.

‘But,’ persisted Elizabeth, ‘there must be, somewhere, a lady whose beauty and perfection of character gives to her a deeper place in your heart than is yielded to another?’

‘Ah! yes gracious madam; there is one such.’

‘And may I know who she is?’

The duke reflected a moment, and then answered that he would inform her on the morrow.

And on the morrow he sent to the queen inclosed in a box of sandal-wood and mother-of-pearl a small mirror.

Those who know Elizabeth’s character can well imagine how deeply this exquisite bit of flattery must have touched her.

The Lamp, 1881

Blind Brickbats's_Theatre,_Perth_1932_audience.jpg

In 1956, Cardinal Spellman forbade New York Catholics to see Elia Kazan’s film Baby Doll. Asked whether he himself had seen it, Spellman replied, “Must you have a disease to know what it is? If your water supply is poisoned, there’s no reason for you to drink the water.”

The British Board of Film Censors reported that the 1928 French surrealist film The Seashell and the Clergyman was “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless” … but “if there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”

“Think for yourselves,” wrote Voltaire, “and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.”


In 1975, firefighters were checking a Greenwich Village apartment building when they entered the flat of 58-year-old attorney Joseph Feldman and discovered more than 15,000 New York Public Library books “piled to the ceiling, covering the stove and filling the bathtub and sinks,” according to a New York Times report.

Feldman, who didn’t even have a library card, explained, “I like to read.” Twenty men removed the books in seven truckloads. A library spokesman said Feldman might be charged the standard fine of 10 cents per book per day, up to the cost of the book, but I can’t find a record of the final judgment.

“Never lend books, for no one ever returns them,” wrote Anatole France. “The only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.”


Musing on the housing problem in 1909, Edgar Chambless dreamed of laying a modern skyscraper on its side and extending it into the country. This two-story “continuous house” would be “a workable way of coupling housing and transportation into one mechanism,” with a monorail in the cellar, farmland on either side, and a path on the roof for cyclists and roller skaters.

“The Roadtown is a scheme to organize production, transportation and consumption into one systematic plan,” Chambless wrote in a 1910 manifesto. “In an age of pipes and wires, and high speed railways such a plan necessitates the building in one dimension instead of three.”

Chambless’ friend Milo Hastings promoted the idea in magazine articles, and the American Institute of Architects recognized it in a 1919 contest to present “the best solution of the housing problem.” Thomas Edison even donated the use of certain patents. Alas, though Chambless promoted his dream until his death in 1936, it never got off the drawing board.

“‘Declined With Thanks’ in Chinese”

The following is said to be an exact translation of the letter sent by a Chinese editor to a would-be contributor whose manuscript he found it necessary to return: ‘Illustrious brother of the sun and moon: Behold thy servant prostrate before thy feet. I kowtow to thee, and beg that of thy graciousness thou mayst grant that I may speak and live. Thy honored manuscript has deigned to cast the light of its august countenance upon us. With raptures we have perused it. By the bones of my ancestors, never have I encountered such wit, such pathos, such lofty thought. With fear and trembling I return the writing. Were I to publish the treasure you sent me, the emperor would order that it should be made the standard and that none be published except such as equaled it. Knowing literature as I do, and that it would be impossible in ten thousand years to equal what you have done, I send your writing back. Ten thousand times I crave your pardon. Behold my head is at your feet. Do what you will. Your servant’s servant. The Editor.’

The Literary World, March 23, 1895